Still Life with Go Board [Xenosaga]

Jin looked up from his tea, frowning slightly. "Representative Helmer," he nodded, giving a little bow but not bothering to rise from where he sat, cross-legged, on the porch of his home. Per Jin's request for relative privacy, Helmer had made a point of keeping their communications discreet over the past year and a half, rarely bothering to coverse in any medium save text, and never dropping by unannounced. His presence that warm morning had caught Jin off-guard, which was one place Jin did not care to be.

"Good morning, Captain." Helmer smiled, his hands tucked in his robes. "We were in the neighbourhood, and thought we might pay you a visit."

We? The mystery was solved a moment later as a young man, maybe thirteen or fourteen years of age, stepped from behind the corner of the house. His dark hair lay close-cropped against his head, dark as the obviously expensive suit he wore; he stared at Jin with a pair of truly spectacular green eyes. "Of course," he nodded, knowing instantly who the young man must be. "My house is open, and my friends are always welcome. Though I don't believe we've had the pleasure, Mr.--"

"Kukai," Helmer supplied helpfully. "Gaignun Kukai, son of Soze Kukai. I've been assisting him in helping pick up his business from where his late father so untimely left it." Jin never ceased to be grateful at how Helmer had long ago left behind the wink-wink-nudge-nudge school of talking about illegal business dealings. The young man -- 'Gaignun,' then -- nodded in greeting, but did not step forward.

"Of course." Jin nodded. "Jin Uzuki, Mr. Kukai, at your service. I was a great admirer of your father's work, and am sorry for your loss."

Gaignun snapped into full diplomacy mode, complete with smile. "Thank you, Captain Uzuki. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance." But just as quickly as the genial persona had come, it evaporated back into the wary stare of earlier, leaving Jin wondering if Helmer hadn't prefaced their visit by telling Gaignun that Jin was a person around whom very little pretense was necessary or appreciated. He supposed he should be grateful for such a reputation among his friends.

Rising from his seated position, Jin encouraged them to follow him into the wooden house, noting with a hidden smile how Helmer remembered to remove his shoes only after Gaignun slipped them off automatically. Ever mindful of hospitality, he excused himself to fetch tea for his guests. When he returned, his eyes found Helmer seated in a Western-style chair, hands folded almost demurely in his lap, but no sign of the boy. It wasn't until he set down the tray that he realised where Gaignun had disappeared to -- a shadowed corner of the room where an antique go board sat, a game half-played scattered across its surface.

"Do you like go?" asked Jin, trying to be as friendly and non-threatening as possible. "An acquaintance of mine and I were playing the other day, but we were interrupted, and she hasn't yet returned to finish her bid."

Gaignun's eyes studied the board. "Are you black or white?"

"White. Have you played before?"

"No." Frowning a little, Gaignun reached for a black stone and placed it on the board; the slate clicked against the wood.

An interesting move, but one that indicated the person who had played it was, in fact, a beginner. Assuming that Lei-Fa wouldn't mind starting anew next time she visited, Jin set down his tea and fished a clamshell piece from the appropriate go-ke, settling it in place.

Gaignun frowned, but did not hesitate in taking another move, knobby hands seemingly too big for his adolescent body fumbling the stone before settling it properly. Jin responded in kind, enjoying the carelessness of a teaching lesson, capturing two black stones and plucking them from the board to demonstrate how that particular piece of game mechanics worked.

It was when Gaignun placed the third black stone on the heavy wooden board that Jin at last realised why they'd come -- it hadn't been Helmer's idea, but Gaignun's, to drop by unexpectedly, to catch Jin off-guard and unprepared with whatever pretensions he might otherwise have thought to adopt. The designer child, the last URTV, his fellow survivor of the nightmare on Miltia had wanted to size Jin up, had needed to see for himself who this inside agent and now-extremely covert partner and advisor to his and Helmer's deception was. He had also just won the game.

For years afterward there sat in two offices, one planetside, one on a floating sanctuary for the forgotten of too many wars, two go boards. The games changed gradually over time, at the rate of a move every few days, resetting appropriately after one side (always black) claimed victory, adding up to perhaps a full game and a half per year. If asked, each man would claim that his opponent was none other than himself.

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